Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Postby John Payne on 04 Jul 2010, 18:25

The application of robotics to ecologically robust crop production has been a long-term interest of mine (see http://cultibotics.blogspot.com ), long enough that I've had plenty of opportunity for despair at the slow pace of progress. That situation now seems to be turning around. I am aware of a few examples of relevant projects, but would greatly appreciate assistance in accumulating others.

Please, if you know of a project relating to the application of robotics to horticultural or agricultural production, post it here!
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Re: Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Postby nano on 04 Jul 2010, 18:57

Hi John,

I really like agricultural applications, hope the field develops in the future!

Off the top of my head, here are a couple:

- Orange and grape picking: http://visionrobotics.com/vrc/index.php ... 26&catid=2
- Strawberry picking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcvhtn7I2qw
- Slug eater ( to guard the crops ? ): http://www.wired.com/gadgets/miscellane ... 1/10/47156

Lots of links here: http://www.service-robots.org/applicati ... ulture.htm
Big european framework: http://ict-agri.eu/ICT-AGRI-3.aspx

Good luck!
small is beautiful
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Re: Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Postby John Payne on 19 Jul 2010, 03:12

Thanks for the links!
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discrete plant positioning, using suspension

Postby John Payne on 02 Aug 2010, 20:59

Something which could be accomplished through robotics that couldn't economically be accomplished using human labor would be maximizing the utilization of a very limited surface area (and the sunlight it receives), by repositioning plants to maintain ideal spacing as they grow, and as some are removed while others remain and new plants (or seeds) inserted among those already there.

This can be done using pots of various sizes on a platform, repotting plants as necessary. It might also be done using a grid or honeycomb-like support frame, each cell of which is large enough to accommodate a single mature plant of the largest variety to be grown this way, but which is also divisible into smaller cells - rectangular in the case of a grid, or a combination of hexagonal and triangular subsections in the case of a honeycomb - for seedlings and smaller plants.

This approach, because it would mean discrete positioning, would lend itself to automation. It would also position the soil surface at the same level for all plants, rather than having smaller pots hidden and shaded by larger pots. While something resembling repotting would still be needed, because a suspension system can have a soft underside, such as a loosely woven fabric pouch, made of biodegradable fiber, hung from a rigid frame, that repotting could be nothing more traumatic for the plant than positioning a smaller frame within a larger one and filling in between with potting soil, leaving the pouch in place to decompose while the plant's roots grow through it, a procedure which could be accomplished robotically, without the need for high precision. This can be repeated until the stem of the plant grows to the point that it no longer fits through the smallest subframe initially employed, which usually won't happen.

Like pots on a platform, when a plant is removed from the framework, the soil is typically removed with it, which can help with the control of pests and diseases. (Used soil, containing whatever is left of the pouches, which can simply be cut loose from the frames pieces, can be sanitized by inclusion in compost, which can hold a temperature between 120 and 160 degrees F, for several days, the peak temperature depending on the scale of the compost operation as well as on the initial ingredients and how it's managed.)
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Re: Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Postby Markus Waibel on 13 Aug 2010, 12:15

Hey there,

Three more links:
- Here's an interesting project by Correll at MIT: http://people.csail.mit.edu/nikolaus/drg/ ... Correll has moved to Boulder since.
- There's also been a similar project by Ken Goldberg: http://goldberg.berkeley.edu/garden/Ars/
- Also, you may want to look into the Boston startup Harvest Automation: http://www.harvestautomation.com/

I agree that this is a very interesting sector ... looking forward to hearing more!

Markus
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Re: Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Postby John Payne on 14 Aug 2010, 06:03

Johnny 5 mentioned in the "Introduce yourself..." topic that Correll had moved to Boulder. I contacted him, and while he doesn't yet have robotic gardening up and running here he hopes to next year, depending on funding.

When I imagine robots tending land, it's nearly always machines that are supported from above, on a beam that itself is supported by wheels running either on rails or in troughs that double as a delivery system for water, or on long legs that always only step on particular spots, so as to avoid compressing most of the surface, but in any case a machine capable of lifting even a record setting pumpkin or of uprooting small shrubs.

I try not to let this fixation become even the slightest discouragement for anyone with enthusiasm for another approach, and, admittedly, devices as small as what Correll has utilized in the past aren't likely to do much damage via soil compression, effectively none when compared with conventional agricultural practices.

My interest is in improving agricultural practice, and I think robotics presents the approach most likely to serve that end, really the only approach with any chance of widespread success. (For me, robotic tractors are merely annoying, except as they help generate experience with autonomous navigation in an uncontrolled environment, applicable to other systems.)

Conversely, agriculture may be the largest potential market for robotics, one so large that it could drive the development of self-reconfiguring and self-reproducing robotic factories. This depends on the total cost of operation using robotic devices coming in below the total cost of operation using conventional methods, which includes increasingly expensive fuel for tractors (which might be replaced by solar-generated electricity in the robotic scenario).

I'm very encouraged to see robotics finally gathering momentum, and have hope that some of that momentum will find its way towards radically transforming agriculture.
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Re: Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Postby John Payne on 10 Sep 2010, 17:55

I'd like to point out that agriculture is intermediate between a controlled factory environment and complex, uncontrolled environments, like a home with children and pets or a crowded plaza, including with respect to legal liability. This results in a gentler learning curve and, in all probability, an earlier return on investment.

Landscape gardening would be one step closer to the complexity of uncontrolled social environments.

Together they constitute a stepwise path towards a challenging endpoint, machines that can be trusted to carry out potentially dangerous tasks, with serious liability issues, in uncontrolled environments including animals as well as human coworkers and onlookers.
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Re: Cultibotics: literally green robotics

Postby helen82 on 28 Oct 2010, 12:52

Thanks you so much for your suggested links. I'm very interested in watching them. Hope to see your contribution more!
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